On a recent weekend, my wife was perusing emails from our Oakland neighborhood's list-serve when she came across a distressing report. It wasn't about the unfortunate neighbor who was pistol-whipped in her garage while going about her business or homes being cased in preparation for a burglary. No, as parents of a young boy this touched us closer to the core: someone's Lovey had gone missing.

It seemed that a 2-year-old boy had been walking through the neighborhood with his mom, experiencing the world and the sublime manifestations of existence that most of us learned to ignore long ago, when, for reasons unknown, Lovey -- a golden-haired stuffed dog who has been his companion through a life that could still be counted in days -- simply vanished.

With empathy for the torment that our son would experience if he ever has to suffer the loss of his panda, we determined that this recent weekend would be known for one thing. We were galvanized as a family, and brought together with like-minded resolve: we would look for Lovey.

We threw a leash on the dog and set out on a search and rescue following the route that the child's mom had described. We split up and searched both sides of the street, in bushes, trash cans and under cars. Thinking that I saw Lovey behind the tire of a parked car, I tried to grab him and was quickly informed of the difference between a stuffed animal and the tail of a particularly streetwise cat. It was about an hour into our search that I heard a cheer from across the street and saw my wife and son pointing toward a tired, frightened stuffed dog sitting pensively on the trunk lid of a car. We soon found ourselves at home and a bit misty when Lovey's beaming owner darted toward him, stretched his small arm over the kitchen counter and took him from the comforting embrace he was sharing with our son's panda.


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Though a small story, I thought of how much could be learned and said of these minor narratives. Thoughts of the persistence of good outweighing our fears, thoughts of the hope of restoration and reunion with those things that meant so much to us, and about the virtues of caring for those not yet known to us, but in the grip of loss, as we all have been and will be again.

In the end, the search for Lovey was the story of keeping alive that cell of society, of culture, that we call community, a cell smaller than a nation and bigger than a family but essential to both. Despite the sense of division, hopelessness and powerlessness that sometimes seems to pervade our city and our nation, the opportunities to look for Lovey are all around us if we choose to be aware and choose to act. It waits for you, if not on the trunk of a car, then in your hearts.

Gary D. Sproul lives in the Oakmore area and is a licensed psychotherapist. His debut novel, "The Length of the Leash," was published in October 2011.